The battle against childhood obesity just got dealt a major blow as new Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue moved to slow down implementation of stricter nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches.
It was wrong. And ever so slightly political.
Consider that the stricter standards stood as a signature accomplishment for former first lady Michelle Obama. They are now being unraveled, much to the delight of an industry lobby, Republicans and not a few students who miss their high-sodium breakfasts and lunches.
Without a doubt, there have been entire fast-food industries built on appealing to America’s taste buds, often emerging from a vat of grease. With loads of salt.
Such diets that trigger that happy place in our brains do not always serve our bodies. As time goes on, waistlines grow and so do health problems. Many more children, answering the siren call of fast-food and junk food, are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Obama’s decision to promote and, with her husband’s influence, demand higher standards was the right heart-healthy lesson.
Low-sodium lunches, loads of fruits, vegetables and whole grains washed down by skim or low-fat milk minus the trans fat were met with scowls on the faces of children used to tastier meals and cafeteria workers tired of seeing those meals thrown away by students. There was also a loss to the bottom line for schools and cafeterias. The answer is not to slow whatever progress has been made in getting students to make healthier choices. But that is exactly what Perdue is doing.
While speaking at an elementary school in Leesburg, Va., with Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Patricia Montague of the School Nutrition Association, a powerful lobbying group that represents food service workers and directors, Perdue announced his department’s “slowing the implementation of aggressive standards on sodium, whole grains and sweetened milks” that passed under the Obama administration.
His comment about balancing sodium and whole grain content with palatability after munching on chicken nuggets and salad with a group of fifth-graders is well taken. But this observation demands follow-through and lessons in healthy eating. None of that will be achieved by not requiring schools to make any changes to the amount of sodium in the meals they serve until after 2020.
Bad eating habits are threatening an entire generation of young people and America’s security when those same young people are too fat to serve in the military, as two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote some 10 years ago about Americans between 17 and 24.
We should be teaching children how to be healthy. This was the wrong move by Perdue.